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Penn’s 1970-71 men’s basketball team was arguably the very best the Ivy League will ever see—even if their 28-0 season did end with a baffling loss that stings even 40 years later.

BY DAVE ZEITLIN



Some schools offered him cash, clothes, and cars. Others kept him on campus for longer than the recruiting rules permitted. Ohio State made such a hard push to reel him in that then-Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes made a personal plea.

But when it came time to pick the college where he’d continue his basketball career, Jim Wolf W’71 didn’t accept any illegal gifts or succumb to political pressure. Instead, the blue-chip recruit from Parma Heights, Ohio went with his gut and followed a young, no-name assistant coach to the University of Pennsylvania.

Wolf goes for the layup.

Today, that young, no-name assistant coach—Richard “Digger” Phelps—is a prominent TV analyst and one of the most well known figures in the college basketball world. But back in the 1960s, when he got in his little red Mustang, drove 450 miles to Ohio and gave Wolf his bold recruiting pitch, Phelps had his mind on only one thing: building a middling Ivy League team into a big-time college basketball program. And the very first building block was Wolf, maybe the best high school basketball player in all of Ohio.

“He offered me a great education,” says Wolf, “and the promise that they were going to build a nationally ranked team.”

That promise came to fruition in ways neither could have ever imagined. Four years after Wolf arrived at Penn—and 40 years ago—the Quakers enjoyed perhaps the greatest season in Philadelphia’s rich hoops history.

Joining forces with future Big 5 Hall of Famers Steve Bilsky W’71, Dave Wohl C’71, David “Corky” Calhoun W’72, and Bob Morse C’72—and coached by a no-nonsense former Marine named Dick Harter Ed’53—Wolf and the rest of the 1970-71 Quakers chased down perfection, flirted with it for a tantalizingly long time, and eventually crumbled under its weight in epic fashion.

But there’s more to a story than a beginning and an end. In the middle, there are tales of friendship and jump shots that pass the test of time. And looking back on it now, the members of the 1970-71 Penn men’s basketball team agree that they were bound by a single belief, one that seems unfathomable for any Ivy League team in today’s game:

There was absolutely nobody better than them.

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FEATURE: Almost Perfect By Dave Zeitlin
©2011 The Pennsylvania Gazette

Team photo: (first row) Coach Dick Harter, Jim Wolf, Jim Haney, Steve Bilsky, Dave Wohl, John Koller, Assistant Coach Ray Edelman; (second row) Trainer Bob Matthews, Keith Hansen, Corky Calhoun, Bob Morse, Phil Hankinson, Craig Littlepage, Manager Eddie Spiegel; (third row) Bill Walters, Alan Cotler, Steve Batory, Ron Billingslea.

 

 

 
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  ©2011 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 02/24/11